Monday, December 19, 2011

Macy's, Bigots and Liberty Counsel

I've been a little reluctant to weigh in on the nonsense over the firing of Natalie Johnson from Macy's for denying a transgender woman access to the lady's fitting rooms.

On one hand, it appears to be fairly cut and dried.  Macy's has a policy, and the employee in question refused to comply with corporate policy. 

However, there's a few things that I want to address about the story, especially since Liberty Counsel has picked this up and is busy trying to make as much noise about the subject as possible.

First, let's take a look at Natalie Johnson's statements in media interviews:

“There are no transgenders in the world. A guy can dress up as a woman all he wants. That’s still not going to make you a woman,” Johnson said. “If you’re a man going into the women’s fitting room, I will kindly escort you to the men’s fitting room.”
Excuse me?  There are no transgender people in the world?  Right.  Got it.  The world is flat too, right?  I knew that religion was and excuse to be blind to the realities of the world before, but it's pretty damned offensive when someone basically claims that their religion obliges them to claim that entire groups of people don't actually exist.

Ironically, over a Lifesite, the article there has the detail that clarifies Macy's position quite nicely:

Johnson retorted that Macy’s doesn’t discriminate against religious beliefs, adding that it would go against her religious beliefs to act on a lie that a man was a woman.

“I couldn’t lie and say that he was a woman. I’m going to be accountable to what I say to my Lord Jesus,” said Johnson, a member of Tabernacle of Prayer, to My San Antonio.

Johnson says she believes that she was acting for the good of her female customers who she thought might be uncomfortable about having a man in their fitting room.

The group demanded to see the manager, who, siding with the transgendered person, pointed Johnson to Macy’s LGBT policy, which allows transgender persons to change in any dressing room of their choice.

The manager gave Johnson an ultimatum: comply with the LGBT policies or lose her job.

Johnson replied that the policy was against her sincerely held religious convictions. She was fired the next day.

Now, let's be clear about how this is NOT a matter of transgender rights conflicting with religious rights.

The transgender person was trying to use the changing room appropriate to her presentation at that time.  Fitting rooms are not locker rooms where people are walking around fully naked.  Fitting rooms are usually small individual cubicles, and you would never see the person in the other changing room while they are in mid-change.  The transgender person in this circumstance is appropriately using the changing room consistent with their presentation, and in no way is presenting any kind of threat to the other people in the facility.  (Not unless you believe that anyone with a penis is automatically a slavering sexual predator unable to control themselves) 

At no time has the transgender woman in question asked anyone to believe anything differently, nor have they demanded that someone who is religious to alter their life or limit their lives in any way.  In fact, the transgender woman is simply trying to get on with her life in as normal a fashion as is possible.

Conversely, Natalie Johnson chose to impose her apparently religiously rooted beliefs upon the transgender woman by insisting that using the women's fitting room was inappropriate.  Again, this comes along and runs smack into the brick wall of who is imposing what upon whom?  Ms. Johnson's insistence that the transgender woman use the men's fitting room was essentially demanding that the transgender woman not only reveal her transgender status to all around (simply by entering the changing room that is inconsistent with her presentation and appearance), but in doing so put herself in considerable jeopardy (I'll come back to this point). 

Further, Ms. Johnson is imposing her beliefs upon someone who clearly does not share them.  Last I checked, a fundamental principle of individual rights is that they do not extend beyond the individual exercising them.  In other words, Ms. Johnson is completely free to believe that there is no such thing as a transgender person based on her understanding of the Bible (or the Necronomicon if that's what she believes in) all she likes.  However, that doesn't grant her the privilege to demand that others live by the credo expressed in that book, which is essentially what she did - in direct contravention of her employer's stated policies.

Returning briefly to an earlier point I raised, one might ask how entering the men's fitting room places a transgender person presenting as a woman in jeopardy?  There are many reasons this is potentially problematic.  First of all, as soon as she enters the men's fitting room, she is declaring to the world that she is a transgender person - whether or not they had recognized that she is transgender previously.  For many transgender people, this increases the chances of experiencing violent reprisals from others who do not understand transsexuals and consider them a threat, or for that matter just decide that it would be fun to beat up someone who they consider a social aberration.  (Anyone else remember the days when it was thought that raping a lesbian would somehow make her straight?)

Kudos to Macy's for actually having a policy about transgender shoppers, and to their management for taking steps to ensure that the policy is meaningful.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Speaking of "Walking the Walk"

So, Canada's Prime Minister is waxing poetic over the "victory" in Libya:

“So let no one ever question whether Canada is prepared to stay the course in defence of what is right,” he said. “For we believe that in a world where people look for hope and cry out for freedom, those who talk the talk of human rights must from time to time be prepared to likewise walk the walk.”
I still think that the real story about Libya is yet to be written.  We don't know who the power brokers are yet, nor do we know what kind of power they really seek.

However, I'm going to point out that Harper, and just about all of his caucus voted consistently against bill C-389 in the last parliament.  He wants to talk about freedom and human rights, then let's talk about the discrimination that trans people in Canada face.  Although transgender people are "read in" to the interpretation of Canada's human rights act, the fact is that there are no clear protections in law. 

The fact is that trans people face obstacles in all fronts of life, and Harper is doing nothing about it.  In fact, he is standing explicitly against protecting trans people in Canada. 

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Focus On The Family Lies Again

I see that Focus On The Family has once again opened its yap about matters pertaining to Transsexuals, and they are lying about it:

Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons, who treats children and adults suffering from gender identity disorder in his practice in Pennsylvania, said the government is doing transgender people a disservice.
“It’s totally treatable and the issue can be resolved,” he said, noting that some therapists have an 80 percent success rate in helping people accept their biological gender.
“The problem is when you get sex-reassignment surgery, one of the major principles (of medicine) is ‘First, do no harm.’ With gender-reassignment surgery, you’re surgically mutilating a healthy body. And you’re supporting a delusion. Poor body image is a huge cause of it, and severe psychopathology in parents is a huge cause of it. That’s the mental health perspective.
The first thought that went through my mind was "who the heck is Dr. Fitzgibbons?"  Sure enough, a brief bit of searching on the web turns up that he is not really an authority on transgender/transsexual people per se, but instead one of the talking heads that NARTH likes to put forward to create the illusion of legitimacy.

He's written papers with NARTH's founder Joseph Nicolosi, Dale O'Leary and others which largely repeat the standard nonsense arguments about transsexuality that have been long since disproven.

His comments here about causes of transsexuality are a good example of the kind of silly arguments that we routinely find on the web talking about transsexuals:
Poor body image is a huge cause of it, and severe psychopathology in parents is a huge cause of it. That’s the mental health perspective.
This is completely backwards.  He's partially correct, transsexuals often do have major body image issues.  However, those issues are not a cause of transsexuality, but are in fact caused by being transsexual. 

As for drawing a link between psychopathology in parents and transsexuality in their offspring, that's just ridiculous.  Superficially, you can find a lot of people in any population who have screwed up parents.  Transsexuals are no different in this regard.  However, if 'screwed up parents' were a cause of transsexuality in general (and I have no idea how such a link could possibly occur), then how does someone like Dr. Fitzgibbons explain those transsexuals who come from perfectly normal, stable family structures?  Unless he has substantial population statistics that show that normal, stable family structures in the upbringing of transsexuals is somehow "unusual" (which I very much doubt), then it would seem to me that the doctor is quite frankly talking through his hat.

As for the argument about Gender Surgery and the "do no harm" aspect of things, I will turn to the recently released 7th Edition WPATH Standards of Care, on page 55 we find the following statement:

It is important that health professionals caring for patients with gender dysphoria feel comfortable about altering anatomically normal structures. In order to understand how surgery can alleviate the psychological discomfort and distress of individuals with gender dysphoria, professionals need to listen to these patients discuss their symptoms, dilemmas, and life histories. The resistance against performing surgery on the ethical basis of “above all do no harm” should be respected, discussed, and met with the opportunity to learn from patients themselves about the psychological distress of having gender dysphoria and the potential for harm caused by denying access to appropriate treatments.
In other words, there is often greater harm being done by denying transsexual patients access to surgery.  The harm may not be physical damage, but it is the more insidious psychological harm, something which Dr. Fitzgibbons should not only understand but respect far more than any surgeon.

His claims that there are therapists out there with 80% success rates "getting people to accept their bodies" is unsubstantiated, and I can find no papers which suggest any such thing.  Further, it is important to recognize that transsexuality is a fairly rare condition compared to conditions such as crossdressing.  The professionals I have talked to about such things have consistently expressed that only a small percentage of transgender people who approach them for treatment ever pursue medical and surgical aspects of transition.  So, while Dr. Fitzgibbons may well be correct that 80% of people who come forward to mental health practitioners with cross-gender concerns are not transsexual, that's quite a different matter from saying that 80% of transsexuals can be "taught to accept their bodies as they were born".

That Focus on the Family is daft enough to quote someone like Fitzgibbons is no surprise, but it doesn't make their argument any more substantial.  It's still firmly rooted in lies.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Wherein Walt Heyer Attempts To Invalidate Transsexuals In One Paragraph

I'll give Heyer this much - on the whole, he has tried to stay out of the usual language of invalidation and erasure that is so common among those who claim transsexuals are less than human.  However, somewhere along the way, he must have decided that he couldn't turn down the opportunity and makes the following statement:
It's easy to point out that DNA tells the true story of male or female.  In a court of law, you can convict a man of rape and murder just on the strength of a DNA test alone.  But a DNA test is never permitted to determine male or female sex gender for transsexuals in court?  Why is this?  Because a DNA test would prove with absolute certainty the transgender hormone therapy and surgery had failed to change a male into a female, or a female to a male.  Transgender activists know using DNA would expose the fraud and damage the social acceptability of changing genders.  Therefore, they have successfully prevented DNA from being used as the criteria to identify gender in the courts.
Wow.  Just Wow.  In one paragraph, Heyer has claimed that transsexuals are engaging in deliberate fraud, and on the other hand, the transsexuals out there are so astonishingly powerful politically that they have been able to stop the courts from using a particular piece of evidence to determine sex.

I'd love to know where this all powerful transsexual lobby is.  You'd think that it would be paying more attention to shutting down the malice and discrimination that transsexuals face on a near daily basis.  Further, I'm more than a little mystified how a tiny minority of the population which isn't terribly wealthy could hold that kind of clout.

Ah well.  I'm going to chalk that one up to being the fanciful musings of someone who lacks any coherent evidence to explain things more rationally.

Looking at his other claim about DNA, however, requires a little more careful handling.

First of all, Mr. Heyer is really referring to chromosomes and specifically Sex Chromosomes.  Men have XY chromosomes, and women have XX chromosomes.  Or so the general rule goes.  Sadly, general rules are prone to strange little things called exceptions.  Consider women born with Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome  for a moment.  A woman born with CAIS has a Y chromosome, and yet developed in utero a female body.  To all outward appearances, and socialization, these people are women even though they have a Y chromosome. 

No doubt, Mr. Heyer would claim that an exception could be made in such a situation, after all the person had been born female.  (or was declared female at birth, more correctly)  His argument would be that such cases are so rare as to be irrelevant, or some such.  How rarity of a condition fits into dealing with transsexuals is a bit of a mystery to me - it's not like transsexualism constitutes a very large portion of the population to begin with, so making exceptions based on rarity seems a trifle ridiculous.

My underlying point is that there are very real conditions which Mr. Heyer's test would not work for, and these are people who are not transsexual themselves.

However, as other writers have pointed out, there is a great deal of evidence emerging that suggests that transsexuality may well have significant biological factors which influence it.  If you are going to make an exception for one case, why would you not make a reasonable exception in the case of a transsexual?  Especially in the absence of any conclusive evidence that transsexuality doesn't have significant biological factors involved?

However, Heyer seems to have fallen for the standard rightwing dogma that transsexuals are "fraudulent" somehow, simply because changing chromosomes isn't possible (yet!).  Well, unfortunately for him and his "allies" (I'm reluctant to call the likes of Peter LaBarbera an ally to anyone or anything), there are enough exceptions in the real world that trying to argue against transsexuals on this basis is really quite ridiculous. 
Allowing the original birth record gender to be altered has unintended consequences.  It can be misused, perhaps by a terrorist to hide his identity.  Or, some would say it will legitimize same sex marriage.  With an amended birth record in hand (changed from male to female), the new female would be free to enter into a legal marriage with a man.
First of all, the supposition about terrorists is really quite ridiculous.  You don't just walk into a clinic and have GRS one day on a whim.  No surgeon would touch you without supporting documentation from a therapist.  That's a red herring at best.

His comments about legitimizing same-sex marriage are equally ludicrous.  A gay male is a man who loves other men ... as a man ... having GRS would be anathema to such a person as they would no longer have something that they would consider essential to their masculinity. 

Ah ... the joys of listening to arguments that boil down to little more than a poorly considered attempt at erasure.  Sorry, Mr. Heyer, but you just haven't got this one.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Don't Cheer Just Yet

Canada's Transgender community is being a little too quick to celebrate the tabling of Bills C-276 and C-279 in the House of Commons.

Don't get me wrong, I fully support what these two bills represent.  I just happen to think that this is the wrong time for this legislation.

Why do I think it's the wrong time?  Because the Harperites are a form of nastiness that I don't think many people have understood yet.  They've shown time and again that they are willing to do the wrong thing for ideological reasons.

Whether that is ramming through an ill-considered "omnibus" get-tough-on-crime bill which will drive Canada's costs through the roof, or giving the government unfettered rights to snoop on all kinds of communications, the Harperites have one thing on their mind - imposing their will upon Canadians.

As we discovered in Alberta in 2009, the "social conservative" faction of the current "Conservatives" are plain old malicious.  What happened at the provincial level at Ron Liepert's hand can happen again at the federal level - and it will be all the worse then.

This government can act out of malice, and right now attracting attention from them is bad news - the extreme right wing in both Canada and the US has already decided that the transgender community is a far easier target than the much larger GLB community.  If the HarperItes move against trans people, they'll move against GLB as well.

I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if Harper's backbench are working hard right now to pass legislation repealing Gay Marriage, and just for fun any protections that are currently in the civil or criminal laws of this country for GLBT people.

We've got four years of these goons to get through, and I don't think it's going to be the least bit pretty.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Paper Genders: Taking Down The Arguments Part 2

Heyer's next brainstorm argument is to claim that you can't make a woman out of a man with a scalpel.

Just the statement "A surgeon and a knife can change a man into a woman" is a bit presumptuous on its own.  When you realize it cannot be done, you can only laugh your way into hysteria, except it is not funny when so many die.  ...
It's easy to point out that DNA tells the true story of male or female.  In a court of law, you can convict a man of rape and murder just on the strength of a DNA test alone.  But a DNA test is never permitted to determine male or female sex gender for transsexuals in court.  Why is this?  Because a DNA test would prove with absolute certainty the transgender hormone therapy and surgery had failed to change a male to a female or a female to a male.
 There are more issues with Heyer's assertion in this set of statements than I care to count.  However, let me enumerate some of the more obvious points:

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Paper Genders: Taking Down The Arguments - Part 1

I've already given an overview of Walt Heyer's book Paper Genders in the Book Review: Paper Genders post.  These posts will delve into the details of the specific arguments and themes that Mr. Heyer relies on in making his case.  The problems in his arguments come in many flavors - some of them simple factual errors, others are more serious issues that need to be addressed.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Book Review: Paper Genders

I recently read through Walt Heyer's book Paper Genders.  What follows is a summary of my impressions of the book itself, and the validity of its arguments with respect to the treatment of transgender people.

To be nice about it, Walt Heyer is a man in a great deal of pain.  He’s been through a lot, and he bears the scars of some unfortunate choices.  Anyone reading his books should recognize this, and weigh his arguments accordingly.

Heyer wants to raise some serious questions and issues related to the whole process of transition and gender reassignment as it is carried out today.  Unfortunately, raising serious questions by making bold accusations of professional misconduct and “activist conspiracy” doesn’t exactly make for a compelling argument. 

For example,  the book starts off by borrowing heavily from a relatively recent study that talked about the high rates of suicide ideation and attempts within the transsexual / transgender community.

Heyer’s own interpretation of this seems to be that the suicide rate is a consequence of dissatisfaction with the results of treatment that went down the transition and surgery path.

The gender change activists would argue the suicides are a direct result of bullying, a popular scapegoat these days.  The advocates also say the lack of transgender acceptance and the difficulty of being gender variant in a society of heterosexuals lead to suicides, but as the last transgender support site disclosed, transgenders harm themselves either by cutting or self-mutilation which points to deep unresolved psychological issues.

The actual study makes no such inference at all, and in fact is much more clear on the probable causes of suicide ideation and attempts among transgender people than Mr. Heyer’s conjecture:

Actual Study:
Those who were bullied, harassed, assaulted, or expelled because they were transgender or gender non-conforming in school also reported significantly elevated levels of suicide attempts (51% compared with 41% of our sample as a whole). Most notably, suicide attempt rates rise dramatically when teachers were the reported perpetrators: 59% for those harassed or bullied by teachers, 76% among those who were physically assaulted by teachers and 69% among those who were sexually assaulted by teachers. These numbers speak to the urgency of ending violence and harassment of transgender students by both their peers and their teachers. 
Education and income both correlate with suicide rates, with those earning $10,000 annually or less at extremely high risk (54%), while those making more than $100,000 are at comparatively lower risk (26%), while still astronomically higher than the general population. Those who have not completed college attempted suicide at higher rates (48% among those with no high school degree, 49% for those with a high school degree only, and 48% for those with some college education) while those have completed college (33%) or graduate school (31%) have sig- nificantly lower rates. 
Those who had survived violence perpetrated against them because they were transgender or gender non-conform- ing were at very high risk; 61% of physical assault survivors reported a suicide attempt, while sexual assault survi- vors reported an attempt rate of 65%.
It is disappointing to note that although Mr. Heyer has spent some time pulling his information from a couple of reasonably good community websites (Laura’s Playground, and other Transgender community websites mostly), but does not seem to have been willing to find the actual report itself and reflect upon its contents.

Perhaps somewhat unique is Heyer doesn’t spend his entire time trying to accuse transsexuals of being deluded people.  Instead, he seems to reserve much of his ire for the “treatment community”, and engages in a wholesale attack upon the mental health practitioners, surgeons and doctors who provide treatment to transsexuals.

He attempts to discredit some key people in the early days of clinical research into transsexuals by tying them to Alfred Kinsey, and using a rather sloppy 'guilt by association' argument, tries to imply that these people were all pedophiles or supporters of pedophilia and therefore should not be trusted at all.
The pedophile connection is very difficult to ignore with Dr. Alfred Kinsey followed by Dr. Harry Benjamin, then Dr. John Money, the co-founder of the Johns Hopkins Gender Identity Clinic.  All three men, it appears, did not advocate for any other therapies, only for the freedom to switch genders.  They set out to redefine how men and women were made and for them it was not in the womb.  ...
As the Kinsey Institute has pointed out in its refutation of the attacks on Kinsey, he was not a pedophile.  Since it appears that he derives his idea that Kinsey was a pedophile from Dr. Judith Reisman, I'll point out what happened when she tried to sue the Kinsey Institute after they refuted her claims that Kinsey was some kind of sexual predator.  Further, "guilt by association" arguments don't exactly make for terribly convincing reading.  They tend to lead me to suspect that someone was desperately reaching for it. 

Heyer also draws upon Dr. Paul McHugh's arguments related to transsexuals as expressed in McHugh's First Things opinion piece a number of years ago.  The problems with Dr. Paul McHugh's claims are addressed on this blog in an article called "Debunking Dr. Paul McHugh".

Overall, the arguments that Heyer makes in his book come across more as an expression of rage and frustration rather than a coherent call for meaningful changes in the diagnosis and treatment of transsexuals.

I respect that Mr. Heyer has been deeply traumatized by his experiences, and that this book, along with Trading My Sorrows is a sincere effort on Heyer’s part to give voice to what he has experienced and how it affected him.  However, much of what Heyer has said in his book, as I will discuss in more detail later, is almost pure allegation lacking any meaningful grounding in objective evidence.

His accusations against the treatment professionals are profound and troublesome, as he does little to provide concrete evidence to back up his claims.  Inference and innuendo are his primary tools of attack, with a healthy dose of borrowing from the standard religious right-wing book of accusations against Alfred Kinsey.

Although he claims to be an advocate for “better” treatment paradigms, Mr. Heyer fails utterly to even begin the process of exploring what form those treatments might take, a flaw in his overall approach that leaves one wondering just what it is that he has in mind for transsexuals beyond squelching the current treatment paradigms.

It is very much my opinion that while Heyer may have set out to raise some significant questions and issues related to the treatment of transsexuality, he ended up seeking an externalized justification for his own actions over the course of his life.  Instead of taking responsibility for his own actions and the outcomes thereof, his book reflects an attempt to make someone else responsible for what he has experienced.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Walt Who?

Recently, I came across someone who seems to have become the latest darling of the anti-transsexual crowd.  His name is Walt Heyer.  Mr. Heyer appears to be one of those unfortunate enough to have attempted gender transition, only to discover that it was the wrong path for them.  Unfortunately, Mr. Heyer has decided that blame for his misfortune lies at the feet of the treatment community, and now he has set out to discredit the treatment community.

In the last few years, he has published a couple of books that I will be discussing in some detail on this blog:  Trading My Sorrows, an autobiography of his transition and detransition, and Paper Genders which is his first attack on the treatment community that deals with Transgender people.

I'm going to spend more time on Paper Genders in a subsequent series of posts, as the nature of the book requires a substantially more in-depth treatment to adequately address.

However, I am profoundly concerned with Mr. Heyer putting himself forward as a spokesman for the treatment of transsexual people.  There are a few problems with his story that lead me to suspect that while he may be transgender to some degree, he attempted transition in one of the most dangerous ways that is possible.

Consider the following from his book Trading My Sorrows:
Alcoholics can be baffling and incomprehensible in their way of thinking.  I formulated a simple plan for living my life after surgery.  I would live as two people, living simultaneous lives.  The male, Walt, would continue to work as a male after the surgery, using a male identity.  Off-work time would be reserved for the female persona known as Andrea West.  This way I thought both the female and the male could each reign supreme, and my conflict would be resolved.  This seemed very logical and workable.  I thought that I would finally be at peace.

It’s hard to describe how the desire for surgery takes over, especially when combined with abuse of alcohol.  It took on the appearance of an obsessive-compulsive disorder, like a bulldozer pushing me relentlessly and single-mindedly toward surgery, while destroying every obstacle in its way.  Lying, cheating, and manipulating were my tools of the trade.  I became expert at persuading everyone that surgery was the treatment I needed.  In my compulsion to have surgery, I plowed right through and over everyone and everything that stood in my way.  Too bad hindsight always comes too late for us to see how truly stupid our process is.

In preparation for the surgery, I underwent a series of plastic surgeries, such as breast implants, buttocks implants, a nose job and removal of my facial hair through the painful process of electrolysis.  People at work were starting to look at me funny.  They knew something was changing with me, but they were mostly silent.  I anyone asked, I made up something in my usual cover-up behaviour
Okay, so, by Heyer's own admission he was struggling with alcoholism, was clearly not living full-time in role prior to surgery, and more distressingly had no apparent plans to live full time as a woman post-surgery either.  Even more important, we find Heyer admitting to engaging in deceit to get to surgery in the first place. 

To my understanding and experiences of the subject of transition, this is a recipe for disaster.  Not only does the candidate have significant comorbid conditions which are arguably likely to impair their judgement (in particular alcoholism), but it's also quite debatable just how honest the individual is being with themselves. 

A key aspect of a successful transition requires the person undertaking the transition to be brutally honest with themselves throughout the process.  Further, it is vitally important that the patient be very frank with their psychotherapist about what they experience, especially when it comes to living in the chosen gender role.  If, as Heyer says, his "tools of the trade" became Lying, cheating and manipulating, it is hard to believe that he was being completely honest with himself or the treatment professionals he was working with.

Heyer made a couple of feints at getting Gender Surgery, and for one of them he relays the following story:
Depending on whom you talked to, I was going on a “business trip” as I told my family, or taking a “vacation” as I told my employer.  Lying came so easily to me now.  There’s a saying:  “How can you tell if an alcoholic is lying?  His lips are moving.”  My true destination was Trinidad, Colorado.  My true purpose was surgery.  I shared the details with you earlier:  how I panicked and walked the streets of town, torn apart by the conflict raging in my head, and finally I backed out, and returned home to tell my wife what I had almost done.
So, not only did Mr. Heyer lie through his teeth to his employer at this stage, but he also lied to his family.  This does not sound to me like someone who is setting the groundwork for a supportive environment as they move into a new gender role.  If you are lying to everybody around you, how honest are you being with yourself?  More distressingly, Mr. Heyer freely admits to experiencing significant concerns about having the surgery done.  This is another sign of someone who is neither ready for Gender Reassignment Surgery or for that matter even living full time as a woman. 

In mid-October, six months after my surgery, my boss Tom and I met for one of our regular evening meals together.  Somehow I managed to get  the words out:  that I had undergone gender reassignment surgery and my new name was Laura Jensen.  As he gasped for air, I thought I may need to call 911 to revive him.  He was more than stunned.  He asked me to clarify what I had said.  I told him again.  "I have no idea how to handle this," he said.  "I'll need to take this to the president."  That seemed reasonable.  Having an employee undergo this kind of radical surgery was hardly an everyday occurrence.
About noon the following day, Tom asked me to go home until they could work out the details.  I could understand that.  They needed to work out the details of how they would handle it with the other employees.  Maybe they would move me into an inconspicuous office, away from intense scrutiny.
So, when Mr. Heyer finally did screw up the courage to undergo surgery, he still wasn't living full time as a woman.  Nor did he set the stage at his workplace prior to undergoing surgery.  This was the early 1980s, and at the time most formal gender treatment programs would have been exceptionally strict about the idea of a one to two year "Real Life Test" (RLT).  How he managed to side step this requirement is a bit of a mystery to me, but I don't have his clinical history at my fingertips, so I'll take it as a given that he found a way to do so.
It wasn't a birthday party.  They had their ducks lined up.  In return for six months' severance pay, I was to go away quietly.  I wasn't ever to tread on Honda property again or discuss my termination with anyone.  If I resisted or fought them, they would justify their decision to "lay me off" by saying that my position had been eliminated.  They had a document they wanted me to sign.  They assured me that fighting the termination would not be in my best interests, and promised that they would make my life miserable if I didn't go quietly. ...
Dropping the idea of GRS on your boss after the fact is not a tactic that is going to win you any friends in the workplace.  A successful transition includes workplace transition, as that is a place that we spend a significant chunk of our lives.  I don't find it particularly surprising that Heyer found himself in deep trouble work wise after that.  Not only had he dropped a significant bomb on his boss's desk, but his boss would also find himself feeling that his employee had been lying to him for an extended period of time. 

I picked a lady who specialized in dissociative disorder and met with her in her elegantly decorated office on the top floor of a plush Beverly Hills office building for many weeks in order for her to evaluate me.  When her evaluation was complete, she called me to come in.  Sitting there in her office, she began to tell me I indeed had a dissociative disorder and for the first time, I wanted to know what it meant.  She said it was the latest name for multiple personality disorder.
In her view, the combination of the discipline by my mom and dad, the cross-dressing in the purple dress by Grandma, and the molestations by Uncle Fred, all together, were the ingredients for the development of the dissociative disorder, or multiple personality disorder, that I had been suffering from and dealing with all my life. ...
Tragic as this is, we have to recognize that Mr. Heyer admits earlier on that he was not being wholly honest with himself and those around him.  It is entirely likely that his interactions with the therapists who ultimately gave the recommendation for surgery in the first place that his deceptiveness was sufficient to hide the symptoms of his conditions from his therapist(s).

Mr. Heyer seems to have failed a key aspect of transition - namely that of being honest with yourself and your treatment team.  The results of that dishonesty, while tragic, cannot be attributed solely to the treatment team.  Mr. Heyer needs to take responsibility for his own role in the tragedy of his attempt at transition.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Debunking Dr. Paul McHugh

One of the most infuriating things I run across all too often are arguments from religious conservatives that try to bash transsexuals based on the utterances of one Dr. Paul McHugh.

In particular, they like to cite a paper that McHugh wrote in 2004 for the NeoCon magazine "First Things". His article in "First Things" is a doozy - drawing conclusions that are astonishingly subjective.

Those I met after surgery would tell me that the surgery and hormone treatments that had made them “women” had also made them happy and contented. None of these encounters were persuasive, however. The post-surgical subjects struck me as caricatures of women.

The short comment here is that in McHugh's view, transsexuals didn't measure up to his idea of beauty. For a supposed professional, working in mental health, McHugh should have long ago discarded such idiotic believes from his practice.

First, they spent an unusual amount of time thinking and talking about sex and their sexual experiences; their sexual hungers and adventures seemed to preoccupy them. Second, discussion of babies or children provoked little interest from them; indeed, they seemed indifferent to children. But third, and most remarkable, many of these men-who-claimed-to-be-women reported that they found women sexually attractive and that they saw themselves as “lesbians.” There's more assumptions in that one paragraph than a pharmacy has pills. Starting off with the idea that transsexuals are sex-obsessed. In reality it doesn't work that way. Transsexuals have varying levels of interest in sex - and it's all over the map. Perhaps McHugh only remembers the conversations about sex because they piqued his curiousity. As for children, not everybody is cut out to be a parent; and some, are so distressed by their situation that the idea of creating the emotional space to care for a child isn't even a point of discussion. (I know several ladies who have no desire whatsoever to raise a family - period) As for his astonishment that someone might transition and identify as a lesbian, it only goes to underscore Dr. McHugh's limited understanding of the diversity of human sexuality.

He [sic. Meyer] found that most of the patients he tracked down some years after their surgery were contented with what they had done and that only a few regretted it. But in every other respect, they were little changed in their psychological condition. They had much the same problems with relationships, work, and emotions as before. The hope that they would emerge now from their emotional difficulties to flourish psychologically had not been fulfilled.

Transition doesn't cure any problems that a person is dealing with besides the gender identity issues. To assume that it would is foolish and shortsighted indeed. I'll address how deeply flawed Meyer's study is later.

One group consisted of conflicted and guilt-ridden homosexual men who saw a sex-change as a way to resolve their conflicts over homosexuality by allowing them to behave sexually as females with men. The other group, mostly older men, consisted of heterosexual (and some bisexual) males who found intense sexual arousal in cross-dressing as females.

So the idiocy that is J. Michael Bailey starts even earlier than I thought. Unfortunately for McHugh, there are a surprising number of transsexuals who don't fit into either category that he has so narrowly described.

Yes, it is reasonable to assume that a transsexual exploring the idea of transition would be curious about the sexual experience as a woman, and may well find that notion arousing. What is unreasonable is to claim that the arousal indicates a primary motivation for transition. Among other things, taking cross-sex hormones does all sorts of things to an individual's patterns of arousal.

Having looked at the Reiner and Meyer studies, we in the Johns Hopkins Psychiatry Department eventually concluded that human sexual identity is mostly built into our constitution by the genes we inherit and the embryogenesis we undergo. Male hormones sexualize the brain and the mind. Sexual dysphoria — a sense of disquiet in one’s sexual role — naturally occurs amongst those rare males who are raised as females in an effort to correct an infantile genital structural problem. A seemingly similar disquiet can be socially induced in apparently constitutionally normal males, in association with (and presumably prompted by) serious behavioral aberrations, amongst which are conflicted homosexual orientations and the remarkable male deviation now called autogynephilia.

More or less, McHugh is drawing conclusions from a deeply flawed follow-up study on transsexuals and from a second study which is based on reassignment of Intersex infants. What he completely fails to draw from the Reiner study that he refers to is the logical corollary to the study's findings - namely that a person's gender identity is wired at some fundamental level of the brain, and does not readily shape itself based on social cues. This is in fact the underlying persistence of the transsexual narrative in the first place. Why McHugh fails to see this reality is simply a clue to his view of the world. (and I would feel very sorry for anyone who had to deal with him as a therapist for gender issues)

While I agree that there is evidence that suggests parallels between transsexualism and various Intersex conditions, I think it is important to point out that for the most part, Intersex people do not seem to describe the kind of psychological distress about gender that transsexuals do. Although some experience something similar if they are inappropriately assigned a gender as infants, in general this does not appear to be the case among IS people.

Many point to the case of John Reimer as an example, and his case is neither about transsexualism or intersex conditions - and in many respects proves the notion that there is something about gender identity that is profoundly fundamental to us as individuals - and is not subject to being "changed" by our social environment.

One might expect that those who claim that sexual identity has no biological or physical basis would bring forth more evidence to persuade others. But as I’ve learned, there is a deep prejudice in favor of the idea that nature is totally malleable.

I think if McHugh were to park his assumptions that sex equals gender and gender is sexuality for a while, he might come to the realization that just maybe the transsexual is in fact reinforcing a kind of essentialism about gender that he claims the transsexual narrative violates.

McHugh likes to stand up and brag about how he had the Gender Clinic program at Johns Hopkins shut down in the late 1970s because he didn't think that transsexuals benefited from surgery (or transition, probably) at all.

McHugh's position flies in the face of research spanning close to twenty years before his decision to close the clinic at Johns Hopkins. It relies upon a single paper, which is deeply flawed:

Because this publication is cited frequently by the professional and lay literature it seems important to us to demonstrate extensively why the results of this work are not very enlightening and cannot support the conclusions derived from them.

The scoring system used by the authors is undifferentiated because it is, for example, not evident if an arrest happened because of cross-dressing or for real crimes; if the partnerships classified as gender-appropriate, resp., as nongender-appropriate were partnerships of operated that existed over the time period of the operation or they were entered into post-surgically; if they are living partnerships or sexual partnerships; if the surgical results permitted to have sexual intercourse or not and if the psychiatric contacts, resp., inpatient treatments, came about exclusively because of the persistent pursuit of the goal sex reassignment or happened because of other psychiatric illnesses. One does not learn, for example, if also the routine contacts to the care-providing psychiatrist are counted or not.

The valuing done by the authors is absurd because, for example, the gender of the partner with whom a patient lived was evaluated pre-, resp., post-surgically as opposite. A single who possibly was not capable of having a long-term relationship and not maintain it received a better score (0) than an MFT who had lived for years with a female friend (and had an intimate relationship?) and did this past the time period of the operation, but whose relation after the operation was evaluated as nongender-appropriate (-1). An inpatient psychiatric treatment was evaluated more negatively (-3) than a jail term (-2). The professional of plumber (Hollingshead job level 4) counted exactly as much as post-surgical "gender-appropriate marriage" (+2).
The tables and figures shared by the authors do not seem serious because after the scoring table a maximum of only eight minus and five plus points can be achieved, but in the results table (p. 1014) a range from -18 to +19 points is given. How these figures came about remains totally in the dark. The presumption made by Fleming et al. (1980) that every category could be scored multiple times, is negated by the following thought: It is imaginable that with a multiple evaluation a number of 18 minus points can come about - by three stationary psychiatric admittances (3 times -3) plus three jail terms (3 times -2) plus three "nongender-appropriate partnerships" (3 times -1). It is unfathomable, however, how 19 plus points can be achieved with the scoring system,unless by, for example, five gender appropriate marriages (5 times +2) plus three different academic professions (3 times +3) within a follow-up study period.
One asks the question how it came about that a renowned professional publication published such opaque figure material. Meyer & Reter considered the shared data for the, in a sense, most objective data of their sampling and left out as good as all subjective statements of the follow-up study. It is possible that there was more to be learned from them.

Not without a problem is also the use of the not-operated as a control group, especially because 40% (14 of 35) of the not-operated had surgery in the course of the follow-up study and the other 21, even if not very decided, further pursued the goal to be operated. If the operated, in the course of the follow-up study, were counted in the partial sample right away of the operated, the average follow-up study period would have been shortened. How the other results could have been changed by this cannot be fathomed; the authors do not have any comments or calculations for this (comp. the remarks to the publication by Edgertom & Meyer [1973] and the critiques by Fleming et al. [1980], Lothstein [1982] and Abramowitz [1986]).

In short, McHugh's conclusions are based on even more limited data about transsexuals than normal, and it is based on what are clearly very flawed methods for gathering and quantifying the raw data.

Meanwhile, by far the majority of follow up studies (at least up to 1990/91) draw very different conclusions than does McHugh.

Worse yet, by McHugh's own admission, he wasn't going to look at anything to do with transsexualism objectively. His decision was already made by 1975.

This interrelationship of cultural antinomianism and a
psychiatric misplaced emphasis is seen at its grimmest in the
practice known as sex-reassignment surgery. I happen to know about
this because Johns Hopkins was one of the places in the United
States where this practice was given its start. It was part of my
intention, when I arrived in Baltimore in 1975, to help end it.

This is not someone whose opinion is objective at all. He had already drawn his conclusions, and no doubt directives to Dr. Meyer's team resulted in a study that fails the 'null hypothesis' test and is deeply flawed. In short, McHugh set out to find evidence to support his position, and didn't actually give one whit to the fact that his position was at odds with the conclusions of a lot of other researchers.

[This article is republished from the now defunct "Cracked Crystal Ball" blog with the author's permission]

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Dear Ms. "5 Feet of Fury"

Fuck You

How dare you attack someone else's success to justify your own lack of it.  The arrogance, and ignorance of your attack on Montreal's Jillian Pageis appalling, and the lies and distortion in your piece are beyond excuse.

Okay, you don't like the idea that someone might be a transsexual - and *gasp* have the spine to do something about it.  That doesn't give you the right to attack those who do; and it certainly doesn't have anything to do with your own lack of employability outside of Ezra Levant's inner circle at Sun Media.

Let's take some of Ms. Shaidle's lies apart, shall we?

Alas, the editor of the Montreal Gazette is apparently unfamiliar with the tragic story of Los Angeles Times sports journalist Mike Penner, who was encouraged to live out his transsexual fantasies within the pages of the newspaper, and continue writing post-op as “Christine.”
Factual error number one.  Mike/Christine Penner never had surgery.  She was in the middle of what the WPATH Standards of Care refer to as "Real Life Experience" when she detransitioned and returned to life as Mike.

Factual error number two is that Mike Penner continued to write as Mike after detransitioning for a period of time before taking his life.

Was it a case of transition 'regrets'?  The only person that can answer that question now is dead.  Being transsexual is no easy path, and not everyone who is transsexual is equipped to deal with the social, economic and emotional challenges that transition brings with it.  Perhaps Mike just realized that there was more to his/her story than just being Christine and backed away from transition to sort out some of those other issues - we'll never know.

For Ms. Shaidle to point to this case as a reason to declare transsexual narratives invalid merely demonstrates that she has never read the WPATH Standards of Care, nor even the Wikipedia articles on transsexuality - much less any of the academic literature on the subject.

We do not encourage anorexics to write newspaper columns chronicling their weight loss, or bulimics telling readers about their trips to the bathroom.
We do not encourage people who think they are Napoleon to write newspaper columns about their imaginary battles, and to refer to themselves as “transhistorical.”
There's a big difference.  People who think they are Napoleon are suffering from delusions; anorexics and bulimics are suffering from eating disorders.  Contrary to Ms. Shaidle's opinions, we do write about the struggles that such people face - and sometimes they are autobiographical in form.

There's yet another factual error in Ms. Shaidle's argument.  She is implying that a transsexual is suffering from a delusion.   Unfortunately for Ms. Shaidle, her argument runs smack into the wording of the differential diagnosis section of the DSM IV TR on Gender Identity Disorder:

Insistence by a person with Gender Identity Disorder that he or she is of the other sex is not considered a delusion, because what is invariably meant is that the person feels like a member of the other sex rather than truly believes that he or she is a member of the other sex.
No, transsexuals are not delusional ... and somehow, I think I'll take the opinion of the professionals that write the DSM based on clinical evidence over the opinion of one extremist blogger who doesn't appear to have even bothered to do the smallest bit of research to back up her opinions on subject that is generally little understood by most.

And yet here we have the Montreal Gazette, diminishing itself by embracing faddish, fatal delusions.
I would object less except for the fact that this individual is a lousy writer.
He  won’t or can’t address a single one of my arguments.
First of all, if you had actually met Ms. Page, you wouldn't be so ignorant as to use male pronouns in referring to her.  Second, so far your arguments aren't exactly compelling in the first place - they are mostly based on your own bitterness and inability to understand someone who has walked a complex personal path in life.

But more importantly, his shallow, affected “voice” is so artificially breezy and “gay” that it is obvious to any professional writer that he is using this column to convince himself that he’s happy.
You don't know Ms. Page at all, do you?  More to the point, you probably don't know anyone who has transitioned well enough for them to let you into their inner narrative.  Let me give you a hint - transsexuals who need to transition are often very happy - almost euphoric - after they have reached a place where they can live their lives naturally.  If her column sounds like she's ridiculously happy, it could well be because she is after a long, difficult struggle to be real.

PS: men who think they’re “really” women are not among “the most courageous people on the planet.”
There are millions of soldiers, nurses, and children with cancer who are truly courageous, to name just a few.
Trannies are pretty much at the bottom of any “courage” measurement system, somewhere below wedding planner and used car salesman.
You are narcissistic, spoiled, overindulged, psychologically disturbed individuals who could only become “heroes” in a decadent, doomed society like ours. much for arguments that derive their conclusions from providing evidence.  Paul McHugh's opinion piece is a work of ignorance in its own right - one that I intend to dissect in more detail in another post.

Ironically, if transsexuals really were "narcissistic, spoiled, overindulged, psychologically disturbed individuals", the professionals we deal with would almost never approve us for surgery or even hormones based on the Standards of Care.

No, Ms. Shaidle, I submit to you that you have neither made your case or presented any compelling evidence that there is a problem with transsexuals in our society.  I dare say there is a far greater problem to be addressed in dealing with people like you who insist upon judging others harshly without bothering to inform yourself about the realities of the situation.

Monday, August 22, 2011

RIP Jack Layton

Jack Layton passed away this morning, and left us this letter as an epitaph.  I have both agreed with Layton and disagreed with him.  During the last parliament, while I agreed with Layton on many issues, I took great exception at his routine willingness to slag the Liberals instead of focusing his wrath on the Conservatives.

That said, he was probably one of the most positive forces in Canada's political narrative in the last decade or so and will be missed.

I'm disappointed by the self-serving stupidity out of Lifesite News in response to Layton's passing:

While Layton was one of Canada’s leading politicians pushing a radical leftist social agenda that included abortion and homosexuality, the pro-life movement responded to the announcement of his battle with cancer with a call to prayer.  At his death, Jim Hughes National President of Campaign Life Coalition expressed sorrow and offered the prayer: “May God have mercy on his soul.”
As if a "call to prayer" is some kind of "favour", especially in light of Layton's stated political positions.  The arrogance of the tone of this statement is appalling.   Hughes' comment is typical of the religious extremism that has lost sight of the gospel of love and has taken up the mantle of delivering judgement instead.